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ODMAfair attendance has increased 8x since first one

Attendance at ODMAfair, Australia's International Optical Trade Show, held in Sydney every second year since 1979, with the exception of one time in Melbourne and two others in Brisbane, has grown eightfold since the first one - from 600 attendees at the in 1979 to just under 5,000 last time (2013).

Sponsored by the Optical Distributors and Manufacturers Association, 600 ophthalmic professionals and their staffs attended the first ODMAfair, held at the Sebel Town House on 10-11 March 1979.

In 2003, 5957 total visits (4226 individuals) were made during the three-day fair, an increase of 14 and 10 per cent respectively over 2001.

Contrary to expectations by some, it is expected the 2013 figures will be at least reached, perhaps will increase during the fair on 3-5 July, this time at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Attendance has grown steadily since more-accurate attendance figures were first compiled - from 1997 onward.

That year, 4987 visits were made to the fair by 3455 individuals.

In 1999, visits dropped to 3741 by 2851 individuals, rising in 2001 to 5131 visits by 3804 individuals.

The reason for the decrease in attendance at the 1999 fair was the move to the new Showground at Homebush Bay, adjacent to the stadium and main arenas for the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

Compared to Darling Harbour, which has been the venue since Odmafair outgrew the Sebel Town House and then Centrepoint in the Sydney CBD, Homebush Bay was relatively difficult to travel to and from and lacked the facilities near to Darling Harbour.

By 2011, the number of visitors had dropped to 3,684 (5174 visits), down 33% from 5,498 in 2009 and 7,365 in 2007.

To try to arrest that decline, ODMA decided to replace the then exhibition organisers in time for the 2013 event, with Expertise Events getting the nod.

The successful pitch by Expertise Events was that the first thing to do was stop the decline in attendance and then (in 2015) to build on that and start to reverse the decline. ODMA agreed and awarded the contract to Expertise Events.

The scope of the ODMA2013 event was expanded to include CPD sessions, a golf day and a gala dinner, all met with enthusiasm.

The strategy has worked so far, despite some early resistance at ODMA, with, according to Expertise Events principal Gary FitzRoy, early-bird registrations for this year's event are already up on 2013, as an example.

Mr FitzRoy dismissed claims to the contrary, such as the number of exhibitor stands being down by about one third as "nonsense.

"What has happened is that some have reduced the size of their stands compared to 2013, which is understandable in the current climate, but there will be about the same number of stands as last time.

"We are confident of a very successful event.

The first ODMAfair in 1989 was organised by ODMA itself, but professional exhibition organisers have been engaged for all ensuing fairs.

It was obvious from the enthusiasm of visitors (and exhibitors) at the first fair that ODMAfair was to become one of the major events on the ophthalmic calendar in Australia from then on.


Within a few minutes of the doors opening on the first day, it was clear the exhibition was to be a success. Exhibition stands, small by today's standards, were soon buzzing with activity, which continued for the full two days of the exhibition. As the doors closed, exhibitors were still frantically writing orders.

Exhibitors reported that they did excellent business during the fair, with many contacts to be followed up without delay, particularly those showing instruments and equipment.

Visitors came from all States, as well as Germany, France and the United States (the latter were all exhibitors). There was a large contingent from New Zealand, which has continued to be the case since then.

The then federal director of ODMA, Mr Arthur Vicary, said the response had exceeded all expectations.

"The exhibitors were very pleased with the amount of business written during the two days and are confident that there will be more business to come from follow-up contacts," he said.

"The support from the professions was most gratifying and reflected the need for an exhibition such as this.

"ODMAfair is now on the map and will undoubtedly grow in the future.

"The exhibition was organised with one purpose in mind: to provide an opportunity for practitioners to see what is available from the suppliers in Australia.

"The fact that members of all the ophthalmic professions were at the exhibition gave the companies the opportunity to show their products to practitioners who at present they may not do business with.”

The exhibition was the biggest ever staged in Australia by the ophthalmic industry and the first not held in conjunction with an association of professionals' congress.

In particular, ODMA was keen to further distance itself from the congresses held by the state divisions of the then Australian Optometrical Association (now Optometrists Association Australia) because exhibitors considered they were forced into playing second fiddle to the academic programs at those congresses. There were no exhibitions for optical dispensers, who now equal two-thirds of the attendance by optometrists at ODMAfairs.

Each exhibitor had a separate booth (there were no open-plan stands), which afforded some privacy and gave a professional look to the fair. The standard of display, although modest by comparison to today's ODMAfair, was first class, as was the standard of products on show.

A symposium on industry matters, including laboratory procedures, was held during the first fair.

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